Famous ulcers

Robin Warren (left) and Barry Marshall toast after learning of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

It is known that Napoleon suffered the burning of a gastric ulcer, the same one that, after a cancerous complication, would end his life months before his 52nd birthday.

It is also known that Voltaire and Darwin suffered the same illness, and that they lived with their symptoms in the same way that Don Lucas did, the protagonist of the novel by Juan Antonio de Zunzunegui, an Indian suffering from a gastric ulcer who treated her as if had a life of its own; the closest thing to a faithful companion whom he pampers and with whom he talks. Above all else, the novel by Juan Antonio de Zunzunegui is a novel of humor, of that humor that began to be cultivated in the postwar period, whose hegemony was exercised by the satirical magazine Quail.

How could it be otherwise, the aforementioned novel is titled Ulcer, and opens with the dedication to Dr. Teófilo Hernando, whom the author calls “ulcer fighter.” Because the Basque writer also suffered in life the ills of this sore that covers the mucosa of the intestine. Juan Antonio de Zunzunegui died in 1982, and although by then the hypothesis had already been formulated that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori it was the main cause, his cure was still treated in the wrong way.

The disease was thought to have its origin in a psychosomatic disorder, that is, stomach pain, bloating, heartburn and bad breath, had their cause in the character of the patient. The cause was confused with the effect, in the same way that the map is confused with the territory.

It was not an easy task for the Australian researcher Barry J. Marshall to demonstrate, together with his partner, J. Robin Warren, that the pathogen causing gastric disease was Helicobacter pylori and that, to eradicate it, it had to be treated with antibiotics.

Faced with the rejection of the scientific community of his hypotheses, and driven by tenacity, Barry Marshall began to experiment with the only person willing to serve as a guinea pig: himself. After a few days, after drinking a solution of bacteria in culture, the heartburn and bad breath began. When an endoscopy was performed, he noted the presence of H. pylori in the gastric mucosa. There was no question. However, his finding had little reach in the scientific community.

But his determination led him to demonstrate not only the origin of gastric ulcer, but also its cure. More than 20 years later, in 2005, Marshall and Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for their discovery.

The history of the ulcer is the history of a wrong diagnosis, which leads us to affirm that in science there are no absolute terms. Since Greek and Latin doctors attributed gastric discomfort to variations in temperament, the word being stomachari used to express anger, until Marshall and Warren found the source of evil, it took a long time; centuries that unfolded leafy before the hypotheses that the scientific community rejected by a false approach that delayed a cure that today is within the reach of the world.

A combination of antibiotics, added to a proton pump inhibitor end the searing pain suffered by Napoleon, Voltaire, Darwin or the writer Juan Antonio de Zunzunegui, who was able to write a humorous novel with such an irritating disease.

The stone ax is a section where Montero Glez, with the will of prose, exercises his particular siege to scientific reality to show that science and art are complementary forms of knowledge

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Famous ulcers